American Warrior Week Takes Root at UNO
Veterans' Day gained more visibility at the University of New Orleans this year, where a local chapter of a national fraternity instituted a week of events to raise awareness of issues facing the nation's military heroes -- and raise funds to help support wounded warriors.
"We really wanted to do something big this year, something we could respect," said Dan Atienzar, president of the UNO chapter of Kappa Sigma national fraternity, on Saturday. "This week being the most patriotic in November, during the fall semester, we thought it would be the week to draw attention to military veterans."
The UNO chapter of Kappa Sigma instituted "American Warrior Week" to honor military heroes, said Atienzar. Each fraternity and sorority on campus raises money each year to help a certain philanthropy effort, often that of its national organization. The national Kappa Sigma organization runs a Military Heroes campaign and this year the UNO chapter decided to center its energy this year around veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces. Going forward, Atienzar said, UNO's Kappa Sigma chapter will host an annual week of events during the week that starts with Veterans' Day, a national holiday.
"We hold our veterans close to us because a lot of our members are veterans or active members or have siblings or family members who are veterans or active members," said sophomore Mark Parsons of Metairie. "We hold our military veterans in the highest regard."
American Warrior Week at UNO began on Veterans' Day, when the fraternity chapter assigned each of the University's seven sororities a branch of the military. The sororities in turn created flags and assembled materials to raise awareness then spent the week collecting donations to help support veterans, particularly warriors wounded in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
On Tuesday, the sororities began doing special operations missions around campus to draw attention to the cause, Atienzar said. Some of the missions involved "silly things" like singing the Star-Spangled Banner in the University cafeteria or chalking up the sidewalk to draw attention to the week's philanthropy. The plan, he said, was to get fellow students paying attention as both the week and the cause gained momentum.
On Wednesday, Kappa Sigma hosted a Bootcamp Dash, a hard-core series of challenges designed and led by Sidney Rougelot, 26, of Westwego.
Rougelot, who can often be spied wearing camouflage on campus, served four years of active duty with the U.S. 2nd Marine Corps Combat Engineer Battalion out of Camp LeJeune, S.C. The combat engineer served seven months as a route clearance operator in Afghanistan. An assault breacher vehicle operator, he drove an ABV vehicle clearing mines and improvised explosive devices to make way for trucks and convoys embarking on dangerous paths. Rougelot also served seven months as a "straight leg engineer" in Iraq, doing weapons sweeps, building bunkers and searching for stashed weapons, he said.
Rougelot, now a member of the USMC 3rd Battalion, 23 Marines Regiment, a reserve corps based at the U.S. Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Belle Chasse, La., built an eight-foot climbing wall and designed an obstacle course for the Boot Camp Dash held last week on UNO's campus. The obstacle course, which was open to everyone and held in the campus quad, required participants to traverse balance beams, do an army crawl beneath simulated barbed wire, clear several high hurdles and run through tires at top speed. The challenge also involved target-shooting practice with high-powered water guns.
Rougelot provided safety training and gave military-style demonstrations.
"Our obstacle course was a lot more scaled-down than what we do in the Marine Corps," said Rougelot. "But it's still slightly dangerous so I wanted to make sure it was on a level that they knew what they were doing and it was safe for all concerned. I think it was just enough to be kind of intense for the average passerby."
On Thursday, Kappa Sigma hosted a "Car Smash" event on the quad in another effort to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project, a national nonprofit organization aimed at helping wounded warriors who incurred service-connected injuries or illness and their families. A Kappa Sig member donated an old car and nearly 200 students paid $1 per swing to swing heavy mallets at the vehicle destined for the junkyard.
"You could throw in $100 and have at it," said Parsons.
On Friday, Atienzar distributed manila folders marked "Top Secret" to each sorority. Inside were special operations missions, or challenges of varying levels designed to extend their knowledge and create campus awareness of issues facing military veterans and their families.
The week's fun culminated on Saturday with a cut-throat game of Capture the Signal. Based on the age-old playground game, Capture the Flag, the game pitted sororities against one another. Wielding laser guns, the sorority sisters raced through obstacles on the quad, trying to capture an opposing team's flag and bring it back to home base without being stunned by an opponent's laser gun.
Rougelot, who has close friends from combat who are now members of the Wounded Warrior Project, hopes the week of campus fun will continue to raise awareness and support for military veterans.
"The hope is that it will get more and more popular than ever," Rougelot said. "On our end, we did a good job. If we start preparing for next year now, it will be even better."